Findings on Campus Climate and Our Action Steps

Nov. 14, 2019

Dear Brandeis Community,

Guided by our founding values, Brandeis is committed to fulfilling what we hold as a special responsibility to set a high standard in the way we respond to those who have endured sexual harassment, sexual assault, or other experiences on campus that make them feel excluded from our community.

To better understand what our students experience, and improve the ways in which the university responds, we conducted the second Brandeis University Campus Climate Survey in March. The survey was distributed electronically to all undergraduate and graduate students to help us better understand students’ attitudes, experiences, and opinions of sexual misconduct on our campus. It asked questions about how frequently survey respondents, since coming to Brandeis, have experienced sexual violence, witnessed derogatory comments about aspects of people's identity, reported sexual misconduct, and taken action to stand up and protect others. We also asked questions about a sense of community, and trust in the university’s ability to respond to a crisis. We are deeply grateful to the 1,148 students, about 22 percent of our student body, who responded to the survey. The full Campus Climate Survey Report, including a summary of the findings, is now available on the Brandeis Office of the Provost website.

What the survey shows about sexual harassment and misconduct is disturbing and deeply troubling. The results remind us that preventing sexual assault and supporting survivors requires the focused work of all of us, not just those of us who are designated by job title to grapple with these issues. Importantly, they show how those in our community who belong to groups who have historically experienced more violence in our society are more likely to experience sexual violence, and are less likely to report it. The survey findings also demonstrate that despite our historical commitment to social justice and inclusion, harassment based on race and gender occurs within our community more frequently than it should.

Many of the results of the 2019 survey remain stubbornly and disappointingly consistent with those from the first campus-wide climate survey at Brandeis, conducted in 2015. Key findings for 2019 include:

There were two important areas in which we did see some progress from 2015: More undergraduate students and far more graduate student respondents said they knew where to go on campus to report and get help for sexual assault. Also, a significantly higher percentage of students reported that they had intervened when they saw a friend attempting to hook up with someone who had passed out, or that they interrupted when someone told a racist, sexist, or homophobic joke. Over the past four years, we have placed an emphasis on improving the student orientation experience and bystander training. We believe the increase in interventions and the findings of the survey highlight the value of continuing and enhancing the training the university offers.

Around the same time we conducted our survey, the Association of American Universities (AAU), of which we are a member, conducted similar surveys at 33 member institutions. The AAU survey focused solely on sexual misconduct, while ours asked additional questions about our campus climate. Where the two surveys asked about comparable experiences, many results were similar. But we take no comfort in this.

Brandeis was founded in 1948 to provide access to higher education to students who were being denied the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential. However, when members of our community experience sexual harassment; sexual assault; or degradation on the basis of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation, the resulting climate creates a denial of access to higher education. Students cannot freely engage with ideas and reach their fullest potential if they are worried about their personal safety; are fearful of harassment; believe they are being marginalized; or are unsure about where to find advice, support, and protection.

For more detail and context about the findings, we urge you to read the report, which begins with a detailed executive summary. We also want to update you on important steps the university has taken recently, and remind you of ways to access help and support as a survivor or a bystander.

Recent steps taken to improve support, advocacy, and education

How to report misconduct

We want to encourage students to engage with the survey, and we will make key staff members available to answer questions about the results. We have also scheduled two listening sessions: on Friday, November 15, at noon at the Intercultural Center, and on Sunday, November 17, at 4:00 p.m. at the Gender and Sexuality Center.

Everyone on our campus must be able to study, work, and live in an environment free from harassment and sexual misconduct. We will use these data to improve the university’s current practices. We remain committed to equipping everyone in our community with the means to intervene and support survivors. And we must all work on addressing sexual misconduct and the pernicious effects of harassment and exclusion on members of our community. We know there is more work to be done and we invite you to share your ideas with us on how to ensure that all students stay safe and feel part of our community by contacting us directly or responding to this email (please note this would not be an anonymous communication). If you wish to make an anonymous report, please use the Report It! site.


Ron Liebowitz, President
Lisa M. Lynch, Provost
Mark Brimhall Vargas, Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Raymond Lu-Ming Ou, Vice Provost of Student Affairs